Saturday, July 25, 2009

A week around La Paz.

We had arrived in La Paz hoping that all the hype and the fantastic reports from other travellers were true.
La Paz (the world´s highest capital city - even though it is not the capital!?) must be the world´s most overly exaggerated place.

They claim to have the world´s hottest curry (which Ian ate without even breaking wind), there´s the world´s most dangerous road (more on this below) and the world´s funniest wrestling (probably true - also see below).

First up was a visit to the curry house. It had been nearly 8 months since we had a curry (other than the odd efforts Ian cooked with limited spices) and so we were quite excited. The restaurant makes the claim that it has "The World´s Hottest Vindaloo!" and if any crazy can complete the dish, they win a t-shirt. Something normally only attempted by students, Gemma convinced Ian to try it. Afterall, it would be crazy to run a curry making business and not be able eat a vindaloo.

Having watched a couple of Isreali´s try it, (one just survived, the other failed) there was a little bit of concern. The dish arrived and smelled just like a pot of minced hot peppers. There were hundreds of little seeds in there and the vapours burned the back of the throat. A few spoonfulls in and Ian was still going strong and feeling good. With the aid of 4 strong beers the whole thing was finished even before Gemma had finished her Korma. Job done, only a slight sweat but some large belly rumblings.
The vindaloo was hot, but it is by no means the hottest in the world. The main trouble with the meal is the aftermath...

At high altitudes the toilet roll is always cold. Good.

After some soothing, the next day we headed out to Tiawanku. This small village about 60kms from La Paz used to be the main city of an ancient empire. Long before the Inca´s were even dreamt up, these folk built huge structures and ceremonial stuff along with Easter Island like statues. It was a fascinating place but unfortunately a lot of the history has been lost or forgotten, so much of what is known is made up by imaginative locals.

Very old statue of man holding two double Frappuchino´s with cinnamon from Starbuck´s.

The sun gate is a giant calender, if you believe September has 35 days!?

Another gate with statues in front and behind.

Heads of defeated warriors.

Warriors pulled funny faces just before they died.

Back in La Paz we visited the witches market. Here you can buy anything to cast spells on enemies, loved ones or just to nibble on if you like eating llama foetuses. We´d already had a big lunch thankfully.

The witches market.

You can buy whole armadillo´s. Want one Katie?

Llama foetuseses. Or is the plural just ´feet´?

Next came a couple of days out at Sorata. This is a small town at the foot of the Illampu mountain. A very beautiful place where palm tress grow, hummingbirds hum around and people come to trek on the massive snowy mountain. We didn´t fancy any serious trekking, so instead we had a walk around to San Pedro´s cave where there are millions of bats and fish with no eyes. Unfortunately the lights were out and we had to make do with tiny torches. No photos of the cave because obviously it was a bit dark.

Gemma, Sorata, Illampu.

No Gemma, Sorata, Illampu.

Ian giving a llama breakfast.

Back in La Paz we decided to investigate the hype around "The World´s Most Dangerous Road". This road from La Paz to Coroico goes up to 4,700m and then in just 65kms it plunges 3,600m to Yolasita before climbing back up slightly to Coroico. Starting in the icy mountains you ride through freezing temperatures, into cloud forest, through rain and into the steamy jungle, all while the road clings to the edge of the mountain side. Sounds fun right? ...

The reason for the title is because in 1996 some fella in a suit behind a desk at the world bank saw a report saying many people had died from buses and trucks falling over the edge. This probably has nothing to do with the road, but with the drivers. They´re not very good here.

Some 15 years later the tour operators still convince people that it´s worth £50-75 to join their tours. These companies supply full suspension mountain bikes with disc brakes, knee and elbow pads, goggles, motorbike helmets, sparkly banners and all manner of other tosh.

We inquired at several of these companies about the possibility of transport to the top of the hill and back from the bottom. We were told that the road was impossible to cycle without disc brakes and full protective gear. One guy was a little shocked when Ian explained that the bikes they used were built for mountain biking, not for road use.

So the next day we made our own way to La Cumbre (the top of the hill) and began the descent on our bikes with no suspension, v-brakes only and no protective clothing. In the first 20kms we had sped down a nice high valley with our fingers and toes getting quite cold. During this stage Gemma could have been heard laughing and mocking the tour cyclists as she raced past them.

Ian´s bike at La Cumbre.

Gemma heading down to the clouds.

The valley opened out and the clouds were pouring in.

After 20kms the road starts to go uphill for a while. In the thick fog we couldn´t see much. We did however see the tour groups speed past - in their buses! - as they were transported to the next downhill section. Tsch.

A short while later we came to a tunnel which was 1 mile long. A man hurried out to tell us that we couldn´t cycle through and instructed 3 men to drive us through on the back of a truck. At the other side these men demanded a large quantity of cash. The driver then told us that it was prohibited for tourists to use this road because it was so dangerous. It would have been useless explaining to him that the title and the reputation were a result of Bolivian drivers, not tourists on bikes. It would have also been crazy to take road safety advice from somebody in a country where at a crossroads with fully working traffic lights, they still need 4 policemen to direct the traffic. After much arguing and a small payment equivalent to 20p, we set off again.

Down we went, through the clouds and into the jungle. Unfortunately at the bottom of the hill is a 10km ascent of 600m to Coroico. Tour cyclists again jump onto their buses, we had to huff our way over the cobbles for an hour and a half.

In the clouds with huge cliffs behind.

Coroico and the road behind.

Overall, we decided the road was "The World´s Most Dissappointing Road", there was no real danger and not a great deal of beauty. But it was at least fun going down such a long and big hill. The next morning we had the bikes put on top of a local bus and headed back to La Paz.

Back in La Paz we had one last event to see. Cholita Wrestling. This is not ordinary wrestling with muscular freaks in tiny kaks. This is local wifey´s in traditional dress and local men trying their best "Nacho Libre" impersonations. From the very start we were in hysterics all the way to the end. The costumes were hilarious and the women were very scary!

Novice Nacho.

Wifey about to get ´splashed´.

"I said I wanted my tea ready at 6!"

Wifey fought back and won.

Our favourite star of the night must have been "Fat Elvis". Harking back to Ian´s younger days at Butlins (Darren and Karl - must remember this!), no wrestling event is complete without an Elvis, either in the crowd or in the ring.

Sadly "Sunny" did not make an appearance this night.

After an eventful week, we are now ready to leave. Tomorrow morning we will be heading back up out of the canyon, and onto the road for Copacabana on the shores of Lake Titicaca, where we will update again.

Love to all at home, thanks for the recent spurt in comments, we need them to keep us going.



Globalmum said...

Fantastic update - you two must write your memoirs when you get back!
I love the Fat Elvis. Maybe the women should have kept their bowler hats on for added protection?
Love to you both - counting down the weeks now! Mum x

Aunty Jill said...

sorry for not adding coments each time you post, but your updates are so facinating there is nothing I can say that would come anywhere near as exciting. The fotos are fab, I've managed to save some to my lap top, when I've tried to save others I've failed! Not sure what I'm doing wrong this time!!
Looking forward to seeing you both, after your parents have managed to let you go...for catch up, party/piss up etc... lots of luv 'n' stuff, Aunty Jill xxx

Lucky mum said...

You suit the helmet!
I thought I was the only one that preferred to leave the loo door open! Nice t-shirt......
Keep the blog going. LOVE IT...
Loads of love to both of you x-x
I'm counting the sleeps. Can't wait to see you both.